Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas, Derbyshire

Whippet underneath the Christmas tree
(Photo credit: Ben Wilkinson)
My first two months as Derbyshire Poet Laureate have whizzed past like a whippet on ice, and now it's nearly Christmas again. It really started to feel like the season of goodwill this Monday when I went into Codnor Primary School to judge the students' annual poetry recital competition. Seeing the enthusiasm and energy that children as young as 5 brought to the poems they'd memorised was inspiring as well as heart warming. We had a tough time choosing winners and were pleased that all the students got a small medal for their efforts. Thanks to everyone at Codnor for making me so welcome.

Earlier in December I also attended a meeting of Derbyshire Stanza, hosted by the wonderful Alison Riley, to run a festive poetry workshop and to read some poems of my own. The meeting this month was in Pentrich, but Stanza members were sharing poems they'd written about Eyam after a visit to the Plague Village. Derbyshire Stanza travels round the county so that each meeting is entirely different and influenced by the setting it takes place in. I was introduced to a fascinating book called 'The Twelve Parts of Derbyshire' by Edward Boaden Thomas, which explores the different aspects of our varied county through verse.

With Chesterfield FC players at the Wycombe Wanderers match
(Photo credit: Chesterfield FC)
Finally, the festive season has also seen me write my first commissioned poem for Chesterfield FC after attending several matches this season. The new poem, 'Talk of the Town' will appear for the first time in the club's match day programme on Boxing Day and I'll post a copy here on the blog shortly afterwards. Writing about football for the first time was a brilliant challenge and I'm looking forward to building on that in 2014.

Wishing you a creative and peaceful Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Found in Translation

On Monday night at the celebration of Derbyshire's twinning relationship with Toyota City, I was lucky enough to have my poem 'Litton Mill' translated into Japanese in front of an international audience. I've only had one experience of seeing my work translated before (as part of Sheffield's City Books project) and certainly no experiences of the translation happening live! It was strange and wonderful to hear the words so differently and I was struck by how much longer the poem seemed in Japanese, which I was told was partly to do with grammatical structure, the need to explain references in context.

I wondered how the poem came across to a Japanese audience, whether the references to a very specific place in Derbyshire could ever 'translate' fully and whether the poem's sense had shifted along with its sound. I was particularly struck by the rhythm with which the translator read the Japanese version of 'Litton Mill', which definitely retained some of the rhythms of the original. It was a humbling and intriguing experience, especially knowing that I'd never have the capacity to translate a poem from a different language into English myself.

Thank you to everyone who made Monday night so enjoyable!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Twinning tales

Tonight, I'll be in Matlock at a ceremony celebrating the twinning relationship between Toyota City, Japan and Derbyshire, a partnership that dates back to 1998.

Toyota City is famous as an 'automobile city' and in 1989, Toyota opened a plant over here in this county, at Burnaston in Derby.

As part of tonight's event, I'll be reading a poem that's very local to this part of the world, Litton Mill. The piece is going to be translated into Japanese. I've no experience of translating other people's work or of having my own translated into other languages so the event will be particularly exciting, especially because Japanese is sometimes read from right to left instead of left to right....

Watch this space!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Meet your laureate! - Poetry in Chesterfield

Come and say hello - I usually
look a bit like this....
If you're wondering who the heck the new Derbyshire Poet Laureate is and you'd like to say hello, an easy way to do so is at Spire Writes poetry, held on the first Wednesday of the month upstairs at The White Swan in Chesterfield, from 7.45pm.

I started Spire Writes when I first moved back to Chesterfield as a way of bringing live literature to the famous town of the Crooked Spire and giving local writers a chance to perform alongside poets from further afield and more established names. Since we started, we've played host to writers like Brendan Cleary, Tony Walsh, Helen Ivory, Martin Figura, Liz Berry and Chesterfield's very own, very talented Matt McAteer.

Each night also features open mic slots where you can come and read your own work, whether you're a seasoned performer or you've never read your work in public before.

This Wednesday (6th November) we're featuring local writers Sally Goldsmith and Cora Greenhill. Sally was born in Oxfordshire but feels like a Sheffielder having lived in and around the city for nearly 35 years. Her pamphlet 'Singer' was a winner in the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition judged by Michael Longley. Her first full collection, 'Are We There Yet?' Was published by Smith/Doorstop earlier this year.

Cora Greenhill's new collection, The Point of Waking (Oversteps Books) comes out in October, and this will be it's first outing! Cora has lived in Grindleford for over 25 years, and her poems reflects her life in Derbyshire as well as longterm working relationship with Crete. She has recently had work in The North, The Sheffield Anthology, The Best of Manchester Poets, The New Writer, MsLexia and other publications.

If you've got a poet in mind who you'd really love to see perform locally, please get in touch and let me know and I'll see what I can do!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Getting to Wirk (sorry)

Driving the leaf-rich lanes that lead from South Derbyshire to Hathersage this morning, I thought back to last night's inaugural Derbyshire Laureate event in Wirksworth library and realised I still didn't know the answers to some of the questions that came up in the Q & A:

How do you select poems for a collection?

What's a typical writing day like for you? 

How do you know when a poem's finished?

The best questions are the ones you ponder for days and never quite get to the bottom of.

In fact, poems can make you feel like that too. For me, a good poem is often both question and answer at once. Lines that make all explanation seem unnecessary but, at the same time, subtly answer the reader. Perhaps that's why poets can seem so inarticulate in face-to-face settings: we're used to working things out on the page.

Thought-provoking questions and all, it was great to read some of my poems to a full house at Wirksworth library, including many members of the Wirksworth Word Miners. With the thriving arts festival and art trail, Wirksworth was an exciting place to start the laureateship. It had been years since I walked the calf-punishing back streets up to the quarry, or had a pint in The Hope and Anchor. This morning, I woke up to sunshine and dramatic pewter skies in Kirk Ireton, where I'd stayed with brilliant artist Heather Duncan and her family. As part of the laureateship, I'm looking forward to collaborating with artists who work in different mediums and it was inspiring to look at the ways Heather portrays landscape and perspective, a theme I talked about in the reading last night too.

Now, it's back to the desk where I'm working on my first commission - a poem to mark the twinning of Derby with Toyota City. Autumn's in full swing, there's a freshness in the air and, in the parks, whippets get leaves stuck on their heads....

Thursday, 17 October 2013

T'ta from Matt, Ay up from me

I'm sitting down to write this behind a small window in Hathersage, with a whippet snoring loudly in the corner and a fire-coloured garden on the other side of the glass: my neighbour's rowan tree all off-gold leaves and red berries. Somewhere behind this immediate view, another one unfolds to north and south: Stanage Edge, where my hands remember gritstone holds; the road snaking out to Bamford and Castleton; the woods that flank the river, dark at this time of year; the other road, the one that stretches to Calver and then, eventually, to Chesterfield, my hometown, where the houses crowd closer together and the shop windows are lit till late. All these markers make the landscape I adore.

My name's Helen, I'm the new Derbyshire Poet Laureate and, as you can probably tell, I'm just a little bit excited about exploring the county through words. For the next two years, it's going to be my honour and privilege to work with libraries, schools, community groups and other organisations around Derbyshire to share my love of poetry and place. Following in the footsteps of previous laureates Cathy Grindrod, River Wolton, Ann Atkinson and Matt Black is going to be a daunting challenge.

I was born in Sheffield and grew up in Chesterfield, a town I'm proud to call home (even if it sometimes gets called other names as well). Ever since I was a kid, I've loved hill walking and fell running and used to go out to the Peak District regularly with my dad. As I got older, I learned to rock climb as well and that became my obsession - most weekends, I can be found at a local crag, hanging on for dear life (or suggesting we pack up early and go to the pub). I've lived in other places around the country (in Cambridge for a few years and then in Grasmere, where I was Poet in Residence at The Wordsworth Trust) but a few years ago something carried me back to Chesterfield, and ever since then I've been glad to be home. I now live a stone's throw from Stanage Edge (please don't chuck rocks off the top at me) and spend a lot of time in Sheffield, where I'm in the final year of studying for a PhD.

I mainly write poetry - my first collection 'Division Street' was published by Chatto & Windus this year - but I'm interested in literature of all kinds both on and off the page: I run a regular open mike night in Chesterfield, 'Spire Writes', which takes place on the first Wednesday of every month at The White Swan.

What does the laureateship have in store....? It's too early to tell, but amongst other things, you can expect football poems, projects involving maps, performances in unusual venues, poems that climb...and a lot of surprises. In fact, I hope most of it is going to be a surprise to me. I'll share some of my experiences as a laureate diary here on the blog and I hope to be in touch with as many of you as possible along the way!

My first event as laureate is on October 28th in Wirksworth Library as part of Derwent Discovery Days 2013.

I've got a lot to learn about Derbyshire. And I can't wait.

Last post, t'ta for now (but see you again soon), and big thanks from Matt

Hello there, this is Matt saying fare thee well from Laureate blogging. It's been a fantastic 2 years, and all thanks to everyone I've worked with, all the writers, readers, groups, schools, festivals, all the organisers, to Ali, Cathy, River, and the Arts Team, and to everyone else.
I've learnt so much, working with different groups, writing for different audiences, the joys of Derbyshire hospitality everywhere, fuddles indeed, and lots of good times. Delighted to say that I shall still be working in the County, so do hope to see you somewhere at some point soon. 
Meanwhiles, the fabulous Helen Mort, who is a wonderful poet, is starting her Laureate journey, which I'm quite sure is going to be brill - try and get her to your group or event soon! 
Of course, a major source of delight and inner-glow satisfaction is my end of Laureateering book - as above - which is now available!! Poems on all subjects - the essential nature of libraries, Belper Joe, the Peak District, Chesterfield taxi-drivers, the A6, Swizzels Love-Heart factory, speed awareness classes, and lots more.  Copies are available to borrow in Derbyshire Libraries or if you would like to buy a copy, please contact Ali Betteridge, Literature Development Officer on 01773 831359 or email

So, that's all for now folks, t'ta for now, and big thanks, Matt